15+ Essentials for the Perfectly Packed Picnic Basket

The food is completely prepped, the weather is perfect, and a fun bunch of good company will be meeting at your favorite outdoor locale.

Everyone is ready for a fun day, to enjoy the sun and dine on a delicious meal together!

But before you head out on your picnic, take a moment to scan our checklist of important items to bring with you.

Horizontal image of a packed picnic basket with a checkered red and white towel on a countertop.

We link to vendors to help you find relevant products. If you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.

It will ensure that you have all the essentials needed for a perfectly packed basket and avoid any disappointment over forgetting something important.

As long as you pack your favorite foods and beverages along with all of our recommended items, you’ll be ready for anything.

We cover all the basics you’ll need, like an outdoor blanket and reusable paper towels and napkins. And we’ll also suggest some unexpected items you may not have thought about including.

Collapsible trash bag holder, anyone?

Let’s go over all the fun details now, so you can start packing as soon as possible while the weather is still warm and lovely!

You won’t need every item listed here every time you dine outdoors, but having our checklist at the ready – and our must-have picks – will guarantee nothing gets forgotten and you’ll always be prepared.

Outdoor Blanket

If you plan to sit on the ground to lay out your spread, remember to bring along a blanket.

Any blanket will do on a dry and sunny day, but if the ground is damp, it’s nice to have one with a waterproof backing – or sand-proof, if you’re heading to the beach.

Vertical image of a wine bottle wrapped in a plaid blanket in a bottle holder.

Wrapping certain items in a blanket for transport can also help to keep your bottled beverages protected and cool.

This portable plaid outdoor XL blanket from Oniva has a cozy, soft fleece topside and water-resistant underside to shield you from a damp ground.

It measures 70 inches by 80 inches when completely open, plenty of comfortable room for four or more people/children.

Oniva XL Fleece Picnic Blanket, Gray Plaid

Plus, it folds into an 18-by-11-by-5-inch compact tote with a shoulder strap for easy carrying – a convenient touch, as most blankets won’t fit into a basket along with everything else. There’s also a zippered pocket in the flap to transport any smaller items for you to quickly access.

Find it now on Wayfair or Amazon.

Portable Condiments Containers

Depending on what’s on your menu, a selection of condiments will round out your meal.

Dips, ketchup, hot sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, and salad dressings are all welcome additions, but packing the full-sized containers takes up way too much space – especially when you only need small amounts.

Image of the OXO Good Grips Silicone Squeeze Bottles.

OXO Good Grips Prep & Go Silicone Squeeze Bottle, pack of 2

Instead of bringing along large containers, repackage them into travel-sized squeeze bottles.

These 2.3-ounce condiment bottles from OXO Good Grips are the perfect size for a picnic basket, and are made of easy-to-squeeze silicone with a leakproof plastic lid. The base can be flipped inside-out for quick cleaning by hand or in the dishwasher.

They’re available to purchase in a set of two directly from OXO, or from Amazon.

So, how exactly are you supposed to get your dips, sauces, and spreads into those tiny bottles? For quick and clean transfer of condiments from one container to another, a small funnel gets the job done efficiently.

Walfos Mini Stainless Steel Funnels, pack of 3

Pick up a pack of three mini stainless steel funnels from Walfos, each one in a different size for convenient use with various shapes of openings. These are available from Amazon.

Corkscrew with Cap Opener

Few things are as frustrating as being in the middle of the woods only to discover there’s no way to open a bottle!

If you’re packing any kind of beverage in its original container, such as beer, sodas, or wine, be sure to include a corkscrew with a cap opener.

Zwilling J.A. Henckels Sommelier Accessories Waiter’s Corkscrew

A waiter’s corkscrew folds up nicely to take only a tiny amount of room in your pack, and most will also have a foil cutter as well as a bottle cap opener.

You’ll appreciate having this 18/10 stainless steel model from the Sommelier Accessories line of Zwilling J.A. Henckels for all your well-hydrated picnic adventures. It’s available from Wayfair and Amazon.

Sturdy Cutting Board

If you’ve ever tried cutting hard cheese on a thin, disposable plate held in your lap, you’ll know that a small, lightweight cutting board is a smart piece to bring along.

Horizontal image of two cutting boards inside a basket.

Very handy for slicing cheese, fruit, meat, pickles, or sandwiches, these can also double as a tray or plate.

Berkvee Mini Bamboo Cutting Boards, set of 2

Look for ones that are thin but rigid, like this set of two mini bamboo cutting boards from Berkvee – they measure only 8.6 inches in length and 5.9 inches in width, with a thickness of just .35 inches.

What a perfect size for traveling! Find this set now on Amazon.

First Aid Kit

Hopefully you won’t need it, but a small first aid kit is a good safety item to bring along, as well!

You don’t need to buy anything too elaborate, just a few different sizes of bandages, sterilizer wipes, and a couple of antihistamine tablets for insect stings will take care of most minor mishaps outside.

I GO Compact First Aid Kit, red

This 85-piece first aid kit from I GO offers everything you might need in a compact container, including FDA-approved sting relief packages, bandages, gauze, and more.

It’s available from Amazon – the carrying case is available in a few different colors, so pick your favorite!

Folding Knife

Essential for the dedicated picnicker, a small folding knife will serve a host of chores and is an absolute must if you’ve brought a selection of cheeses, fruit, meats, or pickles.

And if you have two, toss them both in – more is better here!

Horizontal image of using travel knives to cut cheese on a checkered table mat outside.

My good ol’ Swiss Army Knife lives in my picnic basket because it has all the essential tools needed for dining en plein air – just like this 13-function Victorinox Camper Swiss Army Knife, available now from Amazon.

Victorinox Camper 13-Function Swiss Army Knife, red

Plus, since this style of knife folds up for easy storage, it’s much easier and safer to transport than your traditional paring knife or cheese blade.

Just remember to give it a quick wipe before you fold it back up again!

Frozen Water Bottle

Picnicking generally takes place during the warmer months of spring through fall, and foods need to stay chilled.

Ice packs are a good option, but they also take up precious room – cue the frozen sports bottle!

Freezing water in a sports bottle serves two purposes: it will keep your basket contents cool without taking up any extra room, and you’ll have icy cold water to sip on as it melts.

bubba Trailblazer 40-ounce Vacuum-Insulated Water Bottle, black

Remember to leave an inch of headroom when filling the bottle to allow for expansion as the water freezes, and avoid using glass bottles since they can easily shatter when frozen.

If you don’t have a favorite sports bottle, consider the bubba Trailblazer, a 40-ounce vacuum-insulated stainless steel water bottle.

It features a dual-wall insulation design. With a double-hinged cap and leak-proof lid, there won’t be any messes! You can find it on Amazon in assorted colors.

Reusable Paper Towels or Napkins

With uneven terrain, spills are pretty much a part of any meal taken outdoors. But they can be taken in stride by having a roll of paper towels and napkins on hand.

Plus, they’ll serve double duty as serviettes and won’t blow away in the wind the way a stack of paper napkins will.

Pack a half-used roll to minimize the space it takes up in your basket.

Arlington checkered napkins sit on a table with cutlery and bowls.

August Grove Arlington Gingham Square Cotton Napkins, red/white, set of 6

For an option that’s more environmentally friendly, pick up a pack of cloth napkins or paper towels instead of disposable ones.

These washable cloths fold up easily and they can also do double-duty mopping up spills and wiping faces, while they may of course be used to protect your lap, as well.

These Arlington gingham 19-inch square napkins from August Grove have the ultimate classic picnic look, and they are made from 100% cotton. They’re available from Wayfair in sets of 6, in a variety of colors.

Rigid Airtight Containers

As a rule of thumb, stick to simple foods and dishes that are easy to pack, and avoid those that are delicate in nature or need to maintain a certain temperature – like ice cream.

Horizontal image of a table with assorted foods in airtight containers.

When it’s time to pack your food, choose food-safe plastic containers with tight-fitting lids instead of foil, plastic wrap, or zippered bags. Rigid containers do a better job of protecting soft or tender foods like cut fruit and sandwiches, and they have better spill-proof qualities.

And as an organizational bonus, they’re easier to stack and pack in your cooler or basket.

Rubbermaid Fasten + Go Sandwich Kit, foam green

Try these sturdy Rubbermaid Fasten + Go containers, available in a variety of configurations with white containers and tight-fitting lids.

The sandwich kit includes one sandwich container, two 1/2-cup snack-size containers, and one 1-cup side container. It’s available now from Amazon.

A strap and cover secure all of the containers together for one-handing carrying, and eliminating the need for an extra basket or cooler.

Travel Salt and Pepper Shaker

Seasonings might be a small thing, but they go a long way toward making your picnic a success – particularly with foods like coleslaw, fried chicken, or salads.

GSI Outdoors Salt and Pepper Shaker

Pick up a small container that holds both salt and pepper and tuck it into the corner of your basket.

This compact and convenient device from GSI Outdoors, available from Amazon, has two separate compartments that allow for single-sided dispensing. The compartments and cap are waterproof, keeping all contents safe and dry.

Serving Utensils and Cutlery

Dishing up potato salad with a tiny plastic spoon can be a long, slow process…

Make sure you pack the right kind of utensils for both serving and eating!

Lnrkai Portable 4-Person Utensil Set

While you can plan to only prep and pack food items you can simply pick up with your hands, you might be excited to serve your famous macaroni salad or a big bowlful of fruit salad.

A basic cutlery set of forks, knives, and spoons is a necessity for these kinds of side dishes!

Skip the single-use disposable utensils, and opt for a set that you can reuse. We think you’ll like this Lnrkai portable utensil set for four people. Each set includes a dishwasher-safe plastic spoon, fork, serrated knife, and a lidded container to store them in.

Purchase a multi-colored set from Amazon now.

Along with standard cutlery items of forks, knives, and spoons, remember to pack reusable serving utensils.

RayPard Plastic Serving Utensils, set of 12

We smile every time we look at this RayPard 12-piece dishwasher-safe set of colorful reusable plastic serving utensils, also available from Amazon. There are four slotted spoons, four solid spoons, and four tongs – so you’ll be able to serve anything during your next outdoor food gathering!


Particularly useful for the wine and cheese basket, or if your menu mostly consists of other little nibbles and bites that don’t require individual pieces of cutlery or plates, don’t forget the toothpicks!

Urbanstrive Sturdy Safe Toothpick Holder, pack of 2

Pack a small toothpick dispenser to retrieve cheese cubes, meatballs, melon balls, olives, and pickles from their containers – decidedly more couth than using your fingers!

A simple dispenser with a lid is a casual choice to buy, like Urbanstrive’s 2-pack Sturdy Safe Toothpick Holder with 800 natural wood toothpicks. It’s available to purchase from Amazon.

Warmbuy Stainless Steel Cocktail Forks, set of 12

For a more elegant affair, go for something with a classier appeal, like these Warmbuy’s stainless steel cocktail forks, sold in a set of 12 on Amazon.

These 5.25-inch-long forks feature two thin prongs, perfect for more special occasions!

Trash Bags

Often overlooked, a couple of trash bags make cleanup fast and easy when it’s time to go home.

Use one to dispose of garbage, and the other to pack up any dirty containers, glasses, plates, or utensils to wash at home – just don’t get the two confused when you’re tossing the trash!

Want to make sure your wrappers and peach pits make it to the right place, without having to worry about the bag falling over, spilling, or becoming lost in the jumble of other picnic goodies and materials at your next gathering?

Let me introduce the trash bag holder.

Thetford StorMate Collapsible Garbage Bag Holder

Available from Amazon, the Thetford StorMate Collapsible Garbage Bag Holder is just what you need to make sure your refuse winds up in the right place. This frame is easy to carry with a collapsible design when not in use.

When fully assembled, it will be able to stand on its own, and has a lid for sanitary protection. It can hold a 13-gallon or larger trash bag.

Line it with a disposable bag, or fill it with recyclable and compostable materials to tie up and bring back home and you’re good to go!

Wet Wipes

Not every outdoor location has a supply of running water, and a package of pre-moistened wet wipes helps to keep hands clean, or to wipe up any sticky spills and messes.

DUDE On-the-Go Fragrance-Free Wet Wipes, Pack of 30

Try the individually packaged option from Dude Wipes, which are available on Amazon. They’re unscented, hypoallergenic, and 100% biodegradable.

They include Vitamin E and aloe for a more hydrating experience that will protect even the most sensitive skin from any irritation.

The Key Is in the Contents

Of course, you’re not required to have a proper picnic basket to enjoy dining al fresco.

A tote bag will work too, as will an insulated carrier, or a hard-sided cooler – it just won’t have the same panache as a beautiful basket designed for the task.

After all, the key is in the contents. Just remember to stock up on the essentials, review our checklist before heading out, and bring along plenty of good food and good company.

Horizontal image of a perfectly packed basket with paper towels, airtight containers of food, flowers, a towel, and bottled drinks.

If you do want to go for the full authentic wicker and cloth blanket experience, be sure to check out some of the beauties featured in our guide to the best baskets. They make great gifts, too!

Are there any other essentials that you think belong on our list? What are some of your favorites to pack up for an outdoor meal? Let us know in the comments below.

For the greatest outdoor experiences, continue reading more of our expert advice on what utensils and equipment you should consider purchasing. Here are three other reviews on other outdoor gadgets and appliances:

Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published April 13, 2019. Last updated March 2, 2024. Product photos provided by Amazon, Wayfair, and OXO. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu and Nikki Cervone.

About Lorna Kring

Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.